Pats find footing, Falcons still stuck after Super rematch
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
Oct. 23, 2017
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Last season's Super Bowl teams are heading in very different directions as they approach the halfway point of the 2017 season.
The Patriots (5-2) posted 23-7 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night , their third consecutive win. After weeks of questions, New England is again resembling the team that pulled off the largest comeback win in Super Bowl history.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons (3-3) look like a team hopelessly stuck in the muck after their third straight loss, unable to find the identity that had them so close to hoisting their first Lombardi trophy eight months ago.
Three weeks ago the Patriots seemed like a lost team on the defensive side of the ball. They had given up an average of 32 points per game and dropped two home games over the first four games of the season.
Things have turned around dramatically since then, with New England surrendering an average of just 13 points in three straight victories. The seven points the Falcons scored Sunday were an opponent season low.
"We're excited because we finally see our hard work come into show," Patriots safety Duron Harmon said. "It's not perfect; we still left some plays out there. ... I just feel like the energy we played with, the excitement, how fast and physical we played kind of covered up a lot of the mistakes we made."
New England coach Bill Belichick has had to make some minor tweaks to the defense in recent weeks, including inserting Johnson Bademosi into the starting lineup for injured cornerback Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle), as well veteran David Harris at linebacker in place of injured Elandon Roberts (ankle) on Sunday.
Belichick said he was pleased with the progress. New England held Atlanta to just 343 total yards . It also held a quarterback under 300 yards passing for the first time this season.
"It's all improving," Belichick said.
Atlanta fell into a 23-0 hole on Sunday night, as the offense struggled to capitalize on its red zone opportunities. It was just 1 for 4 on those chances for the game.
And combined with the 20 straight points the Falcons gave up to Miami in last week's loss, Atlanta was outscored 43-0 over five quarters before narrowly avoiding a shutout thanks Matt Ryan's 1-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones with 4:13 left in fourth quarter.
Atlanta's issues also have bled into special teams, which saw Matt Bryant miss one field goal and have another blocked.
The problems on offense are a sudden issue for an Atlanta team that had scored 81 of its 121 points in the first half entering the game.
"Every year is different. I know that," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "From a player's standpoint it comes down to missed opportunities ... I sound like a bit of a broken record from the first couple of weeks of the season, but when we got our chances we have to make plays, and we haven't done a good job of that."
Things to know from the Patriots' victory:
NO POINTING FINGERS: While the players will bear the brunt of the lack of production on offense, some recent criticism has fallen on the shoulders of new Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
But running back Devonta Freeman said no one in the locker room is looking for a scapegoat.
"I think it's on all of us. Nobody can point no fingers at nobody. We just need to figure out ways to win," Freeman said. "It's all three phases: special teams, offense, defense. Just figure out a way to win. It ain't no pointing no fingers at anybody because we're in this this thing. When we were in the Super Bowl nobody was pointing no fingers about how good we were. So we just take this as a lesson and continue."
TAKING SCORE: The Patriots held Atlanta scoreless in the first half on Sunday. New England has held an opponent scoreless over the first 30 minutes 36 times under Belichick and is 35-1 in those games. The Patriots are the first team to hold the Falcons scoreless in the first half since Carolina beat them 38-0 in 2015.
STILL UNDEFEATED: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is now 5-0 against the Falcons in the regular season. He is undefeated against seven teams: Atlanta, Chicago (4-0), Dallas (4-0), Detroit (4-0), Jacksonville (5-0), Minnesota (4-0) and Tampa Bay (4-0).
After being critical of his team's effort at times over the first six weeks of the season, Brady said he was pleased with what he saw on Sunday.
"I thought everyone was really focused and everyone did a great job of really honing in on what we needed to do," he said. "We didn't score as many touchdowns as we'd like, but we scored enough."
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